I can’t operate that’s my Son…..

When we were growing up my Dad used to like to tells us ghost stories and riddles and one that he favoured I’ve heard a few times again as an adult and most recently read it in a book.

The story goes that a young boy is involved in a car accident and as a result is rushed into hospital where he immediately whipped into Theatre; just as the surgeon is about to start their procedure they freeze and say I can;t operate that’s my son.  Whats the surgeons relationship to the boy?


Now be honest what was your first thought?  His Father?

That’s what the majority of people think – it’s where our brains go when we think of a surgeon.  Often when someone is told Nope – not their father they move into Step Father, Foster Father, Grandfather even Uncle.


All this before they get to the actual answer.  It’s his Mother, the surgeon is his Mam.

This happens all the time, we make assumptions based on roles that we consider to be gender normative:

team administrator = woman

operations director = man

electrician  = man

receptionist = woman.

Its the way its always been, and the truth is what we see.  So what can we do to change this?  What can we do to help people be more open to thinking that roles are not gender specific.

Well we have to start with ourselves right?  Be honest about our own unconscious  bias, and then challenge it and address it.  I do it at work al the time.  Colleagues talking about future Directors in this role or that more often then not talk about Him or He (other than HR which is a whole other discussion as recent research shows the majority of HRD’s are in fact men) I’m that voice that pipes up ‘or her’ (and the same when today and Office Administrator was referred to as she).  Perhaps if I do it enough times it will stick.  I’m not giving up that’s for sure.

So what else, I read that people believe what they see.  So taking this to be true we need to see more women in traditionally male roles.  More role models, more examples celebrated and recognised.  And the same for men.  Lets think about a primary school teacher – again if we are completely honest I imagine most people think of a women before thinking of a man.  But we know that young boys need positive male (and female) role models and that there is a shortage of teachers.  What can we do to encourage more men into the primary education sector?

What else?  What are your organisations doing to remove unconscious bias and improve diversity?  I’ve focused on gender bias here but what’s the additional impact if someone is BAME or disabled?

I don’t want to repeat the books I am reading at the moment but if this is a topic that interests you I highly recommend What Works – Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bonnet and Inclusive Leadership by Charlotte Sweeney and Fleur Bothwick.  I don’t have the answers that’s for sure but am going to educate myself, and in turn share that knowledge with others to improve representation in the workplace.


(this post was written on a train – apologies for any typo’s or ramblings…..)

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